October 2005


I make my way to Chatham on Thursday to begin the actual process of real estate hunting. This trip is intended as a sort of get-acquainted visit, to give me a chance to see what things in my price range look like and to get to know the area a little better. But, just in case, I’ve started talking to a mortgage person and picked up the pace of fixing things up around my current home – if the perfect place falls in my lap over the weekend, I want the option of diving in. Rising mortgage rates are also adding a bit of perceived time pressure.

I experienced a little of what this change might mean, for good and bad, this weekend. Had a wonderful dinner with friends Saturday night, and then we all made an appearance at a Halloween party given by a former co-worker of one of my friends. The four of us are a very tight group, having enjoyed each other’s company for almost 20 years, including trips across the U.S. and abroad. The hardest part of leaving Chicago will be moving that much farther away from these three wonderful people.

But the party (which was preceded by 15 minutes of block-circling before finding a parking space) emphasized how little else, besides these friends, is keeping me here. Where I once felt very tied into Chicago and all its sub-cultures, I now feel like an observing outsider. Part of it, I’m sure, is my work as a freelancer, which can be isolating. In the end, though, I think it’s more a symptom of having reach the natural end of my stay in this city – and the natural beginning of something new.

Real estate has gone from interest to obsession for me in the past couple months, as I’ve been monitoring every apparent move in both my current Chicago neighborhood and in the Cape Cod towns to which I’m considering moving. The Web is an enabler of this obsession in both the positive and negative senses of the word. With it, I can easily scan new For Sale listings in both locations to see in which direction prices might be going, and to map distances from prospective new-home locations to beaches and other towns. I can save particularly appealing listings to favorites’ lists, making it easy to pore over the provided property images, fantasizing about furniture placement and backyard landscaping. For some reason, fireplaces and outdoor showers have become particular objects of desire – fireplaces because I’ve never had one that actually worked as an adult, and outdoor showers because they evoke images of the kind of beach-oriented life that makes the Cape so appealing to me.

In fact, I spend so much time on these sites that I’m beginning to wonder if I have a bit of a problem – like one of those online-porn addicts you hear about, who keep compulsively clicking on to the next available flesh-filled image, no matter how bleary-eyed they become (these days, with computer-display-related eyestrain, it really can make you go blind). Mmmm… yeah, that baby’s hot, but maybe the next one will have a bigger deck…

I’m hoping this is only a temporary thing – that, once I’ve found my new home, the compulsion to hunt out property postings will cease. But what, then, I wonder will take this pastime’s place – hunting for home-improvement products? Finding just the right set of fireplace tools (or outdoor shower accessories)? I might just have to turn the computer off and join the real world.

Hmmm… that reminds me, I need to add “DSL connection” to my property search criteria….

A little more than four years ago (Labor Day week 2001, to be exact), I started a vacation that led to a career change and a now-pending relocation to the East Coast, from my home of 25 years, Chicago. In my carry-on duffle bag for that week in Provincetown – along with my sunscreen and Speedo (it was Provincetown, after all), I carried a copy of The Outermost House. At this point, I can already hear the groans from old-timers – “Gawd, no, another one – when will they stop selling that book!” But, in that week, while sloshing through the moors-crossing shortcut to Herring Cove Beach, I became entranced by the tidal movement of minnows and gulls, pushed in and pulled out by the current’s flow and ebb. Reading Henry Beston in the dunes (among fauna of an entirely different type – and, if you’ve been to that end of Herring Cove, you know just what I mean) after making that crossing sharpened my appreciation for all that lay around and under Provincetown’s resort-driven hype.

I returned, wistful, to Chicago at the week’s end, and, that Monday, was back at my desk in a business and technology consulting firm that was then experiencing the pinprick that preceded the Internet bubble’s burst. The pop, itself, came the next day, Tuesday, Sept. 11. I was in Chicago, not New York City and not Washington, D.C., but, with planes still in the air, our office’s location on the 27th floor in a building diagonally across from the Sears Tower, our position seemed more than a little precarious. My coworkers and I, along with all the other consultants and traders and accountants and bankers, were evacuated from the Loop, as Mayor Daley’s order fast-forwarded that day’s rush hour from 5 p.m. to 9:30 a.m.

As was the case with a lot of people, that day’s events and the business downturn that followed made me think about what I really wanted to be doing – and where I wanted to do it. Those thoughts kept travelling back to Cape Cod. That Labor Day week trip was far from my first visit – I had spent a little more than 2 years as a kid living in Duxbury, with regular visits over the bridge. And, from the age of 9 to 17, I spent a wonderful four to six weeks with my grandparents in South Dennis, with near-daily seaweed fights with my grandfather in the water off the West Dennis beach.

Initially, my relocation plans were stymied by the absurdity of the Provincetown real-estate market, in which the $340,000 or so I figured my 1,200-sq.-ft. Chicago bungalow might fetch would only be a modest down-payment for anything I might find comparable. Then, accepting that the environment I loved stretched beyond P’town’s gilded borders, I started surfing the real estate ads for places like Brewster, Harwich, Chatham, Eastham and Orleans, and all the sudden, the dream seemed possible.

So, in a couple weeks, I fly out to Brewster, for a long weekend of community and home window shopping. My Chicago realtor is confident my home here will catch a buyer’s eye, and a couple of the Web home listings I’ve seen have me as anxious as a blind-date candidate looking forward to an introductory candle-lit dinner. But, I’m also beginning to get an idea of the culture shock that could accompany this process – from big city to small town, from Midwest to New England – and all the new concepts to master along the way. (For example – I’ve learned a simple two-word phrase that’s guaranteed to turn even the hardest-boiled city dweller squeamish: “septic system.”)

With my friends eyes now glazing over every time I begin describing the perfect little 3-bedroom Cape on a half acre I’ve just seen on realtor.com, I’ve turned to this blog to document this relocation (and the re-education that’s sure to follow). After all, there are millions of blog-surfing strangers who have yet to chime in on the differing personalities of Brewster and Harwich, and, I’m sure, are just itching to do so. So, I look forward to input and correspondence from those who wish to contribute them – and, perhaps, some new friends along the way.

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